Do you know your history? Muslim colonies in France, Italy and Switzerland in Middle ages

The extracts below are abridged quotes from Reinaud’s French work entitled ‘Invasions des sarrazinz en france, et de france en savoie en piedmont et en suisse’ published in 1836, cited in a book entitled “Muslim Colonies in France, Northern Italy and Switzerland” by Haroon Khan Sherwani.


“And now the whole of Switzerland was overrun by the Hungarians and the Muslims simultaneously. After the Muslims had made themselves masters of Valais, they advanced right into the country of the Grisons, where they entered the Disentis abbey which had been founded by a disciple of St Columban and was well known throughout the country”

[Specher, Chronicon Rhoetios, Bale, 1617 AD, pp 197]

[Sherwani, p 141]


From this time onwards (942 AD) the Muslims became braver and braver and it seemed as if they had settled down in Europe forever. They began to marry the girls of the land they had now made their own and adopt its native culture, while the local potentate exacted only a small tribute from them.  [Dom Bouquets collection, Vol IX, p 6]

Those who had made the tops of various hills home did not fail to dispatch such travelers as displeased them in any wan and exacted a heavy price from others, ‘The numbers of Christians they put to death’ says Luitprand ‘was so great that few can make a correct estimate of those who were killed’
[Luitprands chronicle in Mauratori, Vol II p 464]

[Sherwani, p 146]

NB Sherwani cites an authority which observes that there is exaggeration regarding the way Muslims treated non-Muslims in these accounts (e.g. Luitprand’s chronicle) admitted by later writers as an attempt to instill fear and anger into the local communities.


The same kind of acts were committed in the country of Nice which then formed part if the kingdom of Arles, as well as on the whole of the Genoese coast. It seems that a body of the Muslims settled down in the town of Nice, and even today there is apart of the town which is called the Saracen quarter.
[Durante, Histore de Nice, Vol I, p 150]


“It so happened that twenty sailors from Spain in a small fragile craft bound for the Provencal coast, but were overtaken by a storm and were driven into the Gulf of St Tropez, also called the Gulf of Grimaud, where they quietly disembarked without being seen. Round that arm of the sea stretched a forest, parts of which still exist, which was then so dense that even the most intrepid could penetrate it only with the greatest difficulty. Towards the north could be seen a chain of mountains, rising one above the other in furrows, which dominated a large part of lower Provence a few miles from the sea. At nightfall the Muslims invaded a village which was situated quote
close to the seashore, and spread over the country. When they arrived at the heights which crown the gulf on the northern side, and when their gaze ranged to the sea on the one side and the Alps on the other, they were not slow to perceive how easy it would be to turn this place into their
permanent homes, for, while they could bring all they needed by way of sea, the land-route opened to them such parts of the country that had so far been immune from foreign domination and were entirely undefended; moreover it was clear that if they need be they could take shelter in the great dense jungle surrounding the gulf on all side.

These adventurers then made an appeal top all their co-religionists and compatriots whom they could find in the neighborhood and even sent word to Africa and Spain for help. At the same time they set themselves serious work, and in a very short space of time all the heights of the vicinity were covered by castles and fortresses of which the most prominent is called Fraxinetum by contemporary writes. It was named no doubt owing to the Fraxini or Ash trees which were probably found nearby.

We are of the opinion that the site of Fraxinet is covered by the modern village of Garde-Frainet which is situated at the foot of an eminence near the Alps.

There is no doubt that the importance of the village must have increased considerably for its is the solitary route whereby it would be possible to maintain communication between the coast and the northern plains. Even now we can see the remains of formidable works on top of the hill, such as parts of a wall and a reservoir cut in the solid rock, and some of the ancient ramparts’

[Today there are no Ash trees in this area. M Germond an Attorney of St Tropez told the author that he though that the site generally pointed by common tradition was only a kind of advance guard from which could be seen the plains of lower Provence. He says that the high ground is only three hundred feet in circumference so that it could not have sufficed for mote than a hundred persons at the Southside, and that he real fort was half a league nearer to the sea on top of the hill now called Notre Dame de Miremar, where the remains of big moats can be seen even today]

Bouche has remarked that a number of places were named Fraissinet or Fraunet and as a matter of fact it seems that wherever the Muslims erected a stronghold in Dauphine, Savoy or Piedmont, they named it after t heir chief fortress. We think that Bouche is correct in his surmise for even now there are a number of places of this name in countries we have enumerated.

[Bouche in Historie de Provence, vol I, pp 170 and 172]

[Above text citing: Luitprand, in Muratori, Rerum italicarum, scriptores, vol II, p 425; the chronicle of Novalese Abbey, Vol II, part 2, p 730 and Dom Bouquets collection, Vol IX p 48]

Most of the Italian writers think that the center of the Muslims colony was situated in the country of Nice near Villefranche, on the spot where St Hospice castle was built afterwards. See the discussion in Muratori’s collection, Vol X, pp ciii, cv, .

[Sherwani, pp 130-131]


When the fortress had been completed, the Muslims began to attack the neighboring villages. Soon afterwards the lords of the surrounding country began to refer their private quarrels to them and when they have finished with the powerful personages against whom they have taken action they had almost invariably rid themselves masters of the country. The result was that in a very small space of time a large part of Provence wa opened to their forays. Such was the terror which their presence inspired that one saw ample evidence forthcoming for the oft repeated sating that one Muslim was enough to put a thousand to fight.

[Luitprand, in Muratori, Rerum italicarum, scriptores, vol II, p 425]

[Sherwani, p 132]


Soon the terror became general and the Muslims proceeded towards the Alpine range. We are now nearing the end of the 9th century (AD) when the kingdom of Arles was ruled by Louis, son of Boson. He was then absent in Italy where he had gone to help the enemies of Beranger, King of Lombardy, leaving his own kingdom defenseless in order to conquer other territories. He was however taken prisoner by his rival who had him blinded, making him entirely unfit to govern his people and more. At the same time the Normans continued their ravages in the heart of France and an idea of their strength will be formed by the fact that only a few years before they have been able to capture Paris with the loss of barely a handful of soldiers. In addition to the Normans, the pagan Huns who had been driven from the banks of the Danube, overran Germany and Italy, destroying everything which came in their way, and were not only waiting for an opportunity to attack France itself.

[Sherwani, p 132]


By the year 906 AD, the Muslims had crossed the defiles of the Dauphine and, having crossed the Mont Cenit, had made themselves masters of the Novalese Abbey which was situated in the valley of the Suse on the Piedmontese frontier.

The monks of the Abbey had barely time to escape to Turin with relics of the Saints and other valuable objects with which the Abbey was replete, such as the library which was extraordinary rich especially in classical works. When the invaders arrived there were only two monks left in charge of the monastery, who were given a sound beating, while they ransacked the covenant
and the village situated nearby and set fire to local churches.

[Sherwani, p 133]


In some places the Christians joined hands in order to face the Muslim
invaders, and even took some Muslims prisoners and sent them to Turin. But
one night the prisoners broke their chains and set fire to the covenant of
St Andrew where they had been imprisoned. The fire spread to such an extent
that a large part of the town was almost on the point of being given up to

(Pingonius, Augusta Taurinorum, pp 35)

[Sherwani, p 134]


Not long after this the communications between France and Italy were broken
and in 911, the Bishop of Narbonne who was called to Rome on urgent business
could not start back owning to the fear of the Muslims who had occupied all
the passes of the Alps. If anyone fell in their hands there was a chance of
his being put to death, or else of his release on the payment of a very
heavy ransom. From the mountainous abodes they made frequent descents into
the plains of Piedmont and Montferrat

[Luitprand, in the Muratori collection Vol II, part 1, p 440]

[Sherwani, p 134]


For a long time Islamic Spain had been prey to internecine wars. In 912 (AD)
the throne of Cordova descended to Abdur Rahman III. During the 50 years in
which he was master of Spain he was successful enough to unite all the
Muslim provinces under his own sway and his Empire attained a very high
degree of prosperity. It was he who among the leaders of the Iberian
peninsula was the first to adopt the title of Khilafah and that of the
Commander of the faithful, and it may be said that he fully deserved his
surname ‘the great’ owing to the quality of his rule, which was beneficent
and at the same time awe inspiring.

[Sherwani, p 135]


The Chronicler of the Abbey of Novalese describes how one of his uncles who
was a soldier by profession, was going from la Maurienne to Verceil when he
was waylaid by a company of the Muslims in a forest near the latter place.
They soon came to blows and in the scuffle which followed a number of
persons wee wounded on both sides. But as the Muslims numbered more than the
Christians they were in the end victorious, and they captured many
Christians for whom they demanded a ransom. Among those who were thus taken
prisoners by the Muslims were the Chronicles own uncle and his servant. It
so happened that his grandfather was on the way to interview the Bishop when
he saw the servant taken through the town in chains, and as he was not aware
of what had brought him thither, he offered his own curias as the price of
his freedom. But when he came to know that his son was a psironer in the
hands of the Muslims he ran the length of the town and had to appeal to
thegoodness of his friends in order to subscribe his ransom.

[Luitprand in Muratori, Vol II, pp 440 and 453]

[Sherwani, p 139]


As one Muslim writer writes, “God filled the hearts of the christians with
terror. If any one of them came before the Muslims it was only to beg for
Mercy. The Muslim armies continue dto progress onwards, conquering
countries, according safeguards to the inhabitants, till they reached the
Valley of the Rhone. From there they advanced right up to the very heart of
the land of France’

[Maqqari, Vol I, p 128 citing Ibn Hayyan]

[Sherwani, p 40]


The above are just a handful of extracts from Sherwani’s text. Whilst many
sources on the Muslims in Europe during the Middle Ages are hard to come by,
it is clear that even when citing the writings of non-Muslim scholars or
Chronicles, that they acknowledge that there was a heavy Muslim presence in
Europe during the middle ages.

May Allah have mercy and let us remember that fair treatment of all is
fundamental to the teachings of Islam. More over injustices should never be
imposed upon anyone anywhere, for Allah the Almighty dislikes those who are
unjust. And may Allah make us more mindful of the history so that we may
learn and benefit from it, so that we may avoid repeating the mistakes of
those who went before us, ameen.

fi amanillah, assalam alaikum, f

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